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Showing posts from 2009

Consumerist Blues

Why is it that when I go shopping for Christmas presents I very quickly find myself on stimulus overload? That overload then creates in me the attitude that I don't want anything for Christmas. The overload builds so much sometimes that the very thought of receiving gifts from anyone is downright blue-black depressing. My to-read book pile is quite high, my iPod has 4800+ songs on it (and climbing), I don't want any new DVDs. What do I want? Land. That parcel we've had our eye on for about six months now. That's it. But who's going to get me that? And if someone actually purchased it for me, what the heck would I do with it? That's the kind of gift that would just gaw at you over time. So, you want to give me something this Christmas? I'll take your prayers, your time, and your long, deep conversation about things that really matter. F*@k small talk, man; bare your soul. Peaceful Advent, everybody.

The Axe Laid to the Root

I read this today in a meditation on Matthew. It's from a homily by St. John "Goldenmouth" Chrysostom. He did not merely say that the axe was barely "touching the root" but "laid to the root"--it is poised right next to it and shows no sign of delay. Yet even while bringing the axe so near, he makes its cutting depend upon you. For if you turn around and become better persons, this axe will be laid aside without doing any harm. But if you continue in the same ways, it will tear up the tree by the roots. So note well that the axe is neither removed from the root nor too quickly applied to cut the root. He did not want you to become passive, yet he wanted to let you know that it is possible even in a short time to be changed and saved. He first heightened their fear in order to fully awaken them and press them on to repentance.
"Beautiful the axe that flies at me."

Who's a Nerd?

Why is it that if you enjoy words and their development (etymologies) you are a word nerd? Or if you enjoy entering another world or life through books you are considered a book worm or book nerd? Who determines this? If you know all the minutiae associated with baseball (and there's a lot of that) why aren't you considered a baseball nerd? Are there hunting nerds? There are band nerds. I get a thrill out of fishing, does that make me a fish nerd?
It seems to me that physical activities act against the thought of one being a nerd, but any action that requires cerebration doesn't. So the athletes made the rules on this, why? Why have we let them? Just because my enjoyment of reading makes me better than you doesn't mean I can go around labeling the sub-literate. Of course, camping and rock climbing are clearly superior to some loud, drunken tailgating party, but those adherents of outdoor recreation shouldn't condemn the less-fortunate sucking down chili …

The Invention of Religion

What does it say about a film that I completely enjoyed and yet profoundly disagreed with? What does it say about me? I'm not sure, but I can recommend Ricky Gervais' The Invention of Lying to my three readers (Facebook doesn't count because you don't have to search out my blog to read this.)

The gist is this: There exists a world much like ours except the people there are incapable of lying--of any kind; they don't even make-up stories to tell, e.g. fairy tales, novels, etc. One day, however, Marc Bellison (Gervais)"magically" lies about how much money he has in his bank account. Since everyone tells the truth, he is believed over what the bank's computer reports.
He goes on with this new-found power to create religion with "A man in the sky." Gervais, an atheist in our world, pokes his finger in the eye of religion with its silly tales and arbitrary rules.
Unfortunately, the world he created isn't all that desirable. It's flat, …

Bad News, Good News

Earlier this month while attending a conference I had the pleasure of listening to a speech by Doug Tallamy, author and entomologist at the University of Delaware. His talk, about creating a balanced community i.e. between the natural world and the built world of man, started out horribly depressing. In the U.S. we have 62,500 sq. miles of turf grass; one-third of all bird species in the U.S. are in decline or endangered; "Birds lost 50% of their habitat because we're mowing and raking the world," he quipped.
96% of bird species eat insects. We've left only tiny habitats in our suburban landscapes and many of those contain plants that aren't native, hence the insects that birds, amphibians, and mammals would be feeding on, just aren't around. Only tiny populations can exist in tiny habitats, and tiny populations are vulnerable to extirpation and extinction. Our remaining natural areas--in too many places--are not large enough to sustain creatures.

What to …

Err...umm...a proposal?

Some in our society bemoan the low literacy rates--heck, the apparent lower interest in the the enterprise of reading itself. We've got rising obesity and diabetes among the young, along with who knows what other "conditions" psychiatrists and psychologists have yet to "diagnose." Children don't play outside as much (this is a battle in my own house), many appear to be regularly incurious about the world. What to be done? What to be done, frets the English teacher.
Why not, starting with the president all the way down to mayors, tell parents and children not to buy video game systems, hold off for a while on buying that movie or TV show on DVD, let the cable bill lapse for a month or two; don't add another song to the ipod for a month. Instead, buy a new board game, plan several trips to a park, go to the library and borrow some books to read aloud. Notice I did not say that the government should ban video games, DVDs, cable TV and such. That woul…

Wonder and disgust

Why does the sight of the flying V of Canada geese thrill me? The overhead honk and the whistle of flapping mousy brown wings stirs excitement within me.

And yet. . . these same avian wonders nearly always bring out a pantomime routine of mine where I cock a shotgun and fire away at the plump feathered ovals with legs when I see them grazing our (addiction to?) lawns. Perhaps their gift of fertilization causes this reaction? Their oh, so charming hiss when you move too close? I don't know, but it's strange when the same creature brings out two different reactions based on their position on the earth or in the sky.
I guess it's just a puzzle of autumn.

Tradition and Sola Scriptura

We read this statement from a Korean affirmation of faith this past Sunday: "We believe in the Old and New Testaments as the sufficient rule both of faith and of practice." Incredibly, I found myself immediately disagreeing with that. Necessary? Yes. Sufficient? I'm not sure. George Florovsky in "The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church" writes "Tradition was, in fact, the authentic interpretation of scripture. . . . Tradition was actually scripture rightly understood."
What does that mean? Well, it seems to me, that scripture can't stand on its own as a guide. After all what does Jesus mean when he says "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes"(Luke 16:9)? I don't know, maybe Robert Tilton can tell us, or your pastor, but better perhaps one of the church fathers. Why trust the accumulation of history, culture, and …

Creation Sunday Invocation

Today was Creation Sunday at our humble church in sunny, suburban Livonia. What is that? Simply, a day of worship focusing our gratitude for God's great gift of creation that enables us to breathe, drink, eat, and do many other things that corporeal beings do so well. It is a day of deliberation to think about sharing these gifts and stewarding them for generations to come. This is no reaction to the times--this is the Gospel--part of it, anyway, that far too many evangelicals have ignored.

Anyway, BK liked my invocational prayer I composed so I post it here (my blog which links to FaceBook) for your kindly critiques. I'm still not happy with it, but I'm just so frickin' picky when I write. Can you find where I stole from Ray Bradbury and Gerard Manley Hopkins?

Father, Maker of the Universe,
What can we offer that compares with the extravagant gifts of air, soil, and water You so graciously bestowed upon your creatures?
What picture can we paint that rivals your spe…

Jeremiad against the machine

Published in 1930 by a group of 12 Southern writers based in Vanderbilt College, I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition is a collection of essays issued as a stay against further industrialization of the South. Obviously they failed. In many respects the South is no different from any other region in the US. Regionalism has given way to a corporatized banality. The last bastion of yeoman farmers lost out to Detroit and other industrial powerhouses in the late 30s and 40s.
At times racist and patronizing, bitter and nostalgic, prophetic and prescient, I'll Take My Stand desperately tries to convince the South to keep her identity, but to no avail.
The essays offer no practical advice, merely polemic, but some of them...whew. What would the world be like if their ideas had prevailed? There is no way of least not until the oil runs out. And that shouldn't happen for another 250 years--right?

Summer is not over!

Just because Labor Day is nearly finished does not mean that summer ends. The seasons follow no governmental dictate--summer has yet two weeks of life. Work begins again for me tomorrow and strangely I feel neither dread nor excitement; I'm not sure if that is a good thing or ill. The family biked half of the Paint Creek trail today and yesterday visited what may turn out to be the last Michigan State Fair.

Overall, this was a wonderful summer for the Martins. Hikes in Washtenaw and Oakland counties, the children mastered bike riding, rock climbing in New Hampshire, touring Massachusetts, Virginia, and Fort Necessity in PA, camping at Wilderness State Park all added up to a full, fun vacation. Unfortunately, I didn't finish painting the exterior of the house (something I'm going to have to do this month).
I also finished my classes for my Master Naturalist certification and am looking forward to a good honey harvest. If I can fit a fishing trip and weekend of camping w…

Stretching again

Here's a minor rewrite of a descriptive exercise. Thank you, Stacey.

He just as easily smiles as pouts when he doesn’t get his own way. Cai is a speedy ghost—his pale form and blond hair streak past you jumping, running, or clambering on his way to some activity be it riding his bike, practicing his fishing casts, or throwing rocks. The freckles smeared across his nose and under his grey eyes lead you to think he’s all summer’s child, yet he was born early in the morn of Christmas Eve. The clouds do roll in when he is frustrated or when he commiserates in empathy with your pain or misery. Then, like the blink of a firefly, as if the painful incident never happened, he’s off to growl with his dinosaurs or storm his castle.
Like most boys he’s full of contrasts: his appetite balances swinging from glutton to a faster nearly everyday. Tears drop easily, too easily at times, but a few moments later the emotion disappears like a stone flung into a lake. He doesn’t like the sig…

A Musing

So long as the industrialist remains in the saddle there must be a money crop to pay him taxes, but let it occupy second place. Any man who grows his own food, kills his own meat, takes wool from his lambs and cotton from his stalks and makes them into clothes, plants corn and hay for his stock, shoes them at the crossroads blacksmith shop, draws milk and butter from his cows, eggs from his pullets, water from the ground, and fuel from the woodlot, can live in an industrial world without a great deal of cash. Let him diversify, but diversify so that he may live rather than that he may grow rich[my emphasis]. In this way he will escape by far the heaviest form of taxation, and if the direct levies grow too exorbitant, refuse to pay them. Make those who rule the country bear the burdens of government.
--Andrew Nelson Lytle, "The Hind Tit"

The heaviest form of taxation that Lytle is talking about (he's writing in the 1930s about Southern farmers) is all the "pro…

On Rock Climbing and marriage

The second honeymoon (10 years later)was sort of a revisit of the first honeymoon. We spent the first one in Maine and Nova Scotia and ended the experience angry at each other (who angrily mumbles "Fuck off" to his new bride? Unfortunately, I did.) This time around we stayed in the states--Massachusetts and New Hampshire--and we didn't end the trip safe in the rough arms of wrath.
One of the highlights of the trip was our climbing Rumney Rocks in NH, an internationally recognized sport climbing spot--truly! We heard some variation of German, some east Asian language, French, and a few others spoken while there.
Of course physical effort is required, but just as importantly, or perhaps more so is the mental aspect of climbing. Each step and handhold must be thought out and care must be taken to not accept defeat. After several hours of climbing, the physical can trump the mental and one can surrender to the mountain. The reverse is true too; it can appear that there …

A secret to easy beekeeping?

Wear contacts. Oh, I can't express the ease that wearing contacts brings. Instead of having glasses slip off my sweat-slicked face and causing me to clumsily put them back on while keeping my veil on, I now have no such problem. Thanks Mr. (or is it Ms./Mrs.?) contact lens inventor.
The bees? Oh, one hive is exploding and I should easily harvest 30+ pounds of honey next month. The other hive? Not so good. But batting .500 is fantastic.

NGO reports firefly population down in Redford

Not really, but I observe less lightning bugs this summer than in seasons past. I don't think there is any connection with the wet spring because we had an even wetter spring a few years back and I don't recall seeing less fireflies then. I also have spotted very few June bugs. A funny thing about Redford is the absence of stag beetles. Growing up in Ferndale, which is only a 15 minute drive away, my friends and I collected scads of them (how much is a scad? Unknown unit of measure) that we used to fight them. Unfortunately, poison ivy is strong along the banks of the Upper Rouge and garlic mustard has been found growing in my yard. What's growing in your yard?

Food, Inc.

What happens when a people make efficiency the highest priority with regards to their food supply? Why you get 21st century America. The documentary Food, Inc. covers quite a bit of ground in its 94 minutes, the result is nothing new if you've been following this issue for several years. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; if you are new to the ways of understanding how food is grown, distributed, and consumed in the U.S. then director Robert Kenner's film is as good a place as any to start. He includes statistics, some dark humor, and some engaging interviews.
The trouble with efficiency, Kenner and many, many others argue, is that you end up with a few companies controlling a centralized food supply that is heavily dependant on petroleum, subsidizes food that is calorie-heavy and nutrient poor, and creates a culture where bad food is cheaper than healthier.
Again, Food, Inc. is good if you are new to this, and even if you aren't new you might find something …

Stretching the writing muscles

Here's an exercise I pulled out of a writer's book I'm looking at (The Writer's Workshop by Gregory Roper). I'm to describe someone. This was supposed to be a page (6.6 on the Word counter (double spaced)). Critical comments are required.

Cai is a speedy ghost—-his pale form and blond hair streak past you jumping, running, climbing on his way to something he’s focused. The freckles smeared across his nose and under his grey eyes lead you to think he’s all summer’s child, yet he was born early in the morn of Christmas Eve. Clouds do roll in when he is frustrated or when he commiserates in empathy with your pain or misery. Then, like the blink of a firefly, as if the painful incident never happened, he’s off to growl with his dinosaurs or storm his castle.
Like most boys he’s full of contrasts: his appetite balanced swinging from glutton to faster almost everyday. Tears drop easily, too easily at times, but a few moments later the emotion disappears like a s…

Two old, two related, one unrelated

I'm a bit behind in my book reviews, so I'll give the abbreviated version for two of the most recent and one that was finished, I don't know, four months ago?
First up, the oldest (though not the oldest date of publication) Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. This book has made such the rounds that it is even poked fun at in the book Stuff White People Like (Well, perhaps the book is not being made fun of, rather the middle and upper class, left-leaning Whites are the target). In short, Pollan follows corn and beef, the two items that Americans seem to eat the most of, through two (three, actually) food systems: conventional (or if you prefer, industrial) agriculture, what Pollan labels "Big" organic (essentially commercialized and idustrialized organic processes) and sustainable ag. He goes into great detail about corn, it's history, it's sex (yes, truly!) and what it's found in. He also follows a cow in the industrial system from …

Up with Up

Yes, that was a lazy title, but if you don't like it, write your own. Pixar continues to create quality productions that reinforce the fact that if you don't have an engaging story and characters to care for then you ain't got nothing--hear that George Lucas? There are probably three million sites to check out a synopsis for the movie so I'll skip it. I will rather touch on a couple of thematic elements found in this "cartoon." 1) Dreams deferred and readjusted. Carl, the elderly main character, (Kudos to Pixar for showing that the elderly can carry a "children's" movie) has to come to grips with the fact that his dreams of adventure, with his wife Ellie, did occur, just not in the way he had expected. Perhaps this is better thought of as contentment, especially in such an age as ours. The other main character, Russell, a quasi-Boy Scout (he's a Wilderness Explorer) comments that the things he remembers most about spending time with h…

Bitter & Sweet

My son had his pre-school "graduation" this past Thursday. Normally I look on these things with a bit of disdain--do we really need to ritualize every progression we make in life? Honestly--if everybody is a winner then are there any winners at all? OK, so I attend the ceremony and enjoy it. What took me by surprise was the tiny corrugated shard of sadness I felt, knowing he would never be this age again. Knowing I would never drop him off at his school (my old building) nor pick him up there again.
When he was an infant I couldn't wait for him to mature--let's face it, on many levels babies are boring. They don't much of anything--sure, sure, they possess an ontological sweetness, but really...they eat, sleep, cry, and void waste. Slugs can be more fascinating at times. I derive much pleasure from his age right now (most days) and look forward to when we can discuss ideas--metaphysical and cultural--but I enjoy the journey too. He will never pass this …

Hombre So-So

A little ball of cottony lightning tumbled in my stomach as I opened the package today. Hombre Lobo, the new Eels album was delivered to my mailbox this afternoon. I promptly tore off the plastic wrap and inserted the CD into my player. The little ball of cottony lightning soon fizzled out.

Most of the "12 songs of desire" are only moderately interesting. A 4/4 tempo, minimal sonic colors, and bland lyrics unfortunately dominate on this. Only "Fresh Blood", "All the Beautiful Things", and "Beginner's Luck", approach E's usual compositional talent. It's not that the album sucks, but E has set the bar much higher than this--hence the disappointment. Artists tend to fluctuate in their output, this just happens to be a lower point in the Eels arc. You could find better starting places in their discography if you haven't listened to Eels before. If you're already a fan, you may find more to like than I did, but I think …

An amnesiatic book review

I finished Eric T. Freyfogle's Agrarianism and the Good Society: Land, Culture, Conflict, and Hope some time ago and I remember being very impressed with it. This is the trouble with writing reviews some time after the reading--cranial folds don't always release their wards too easily. I remember the crux of the book was how can we steward land in a way that is wise balancing both public and private needs in addition to considering the needs of the land (and supported ecosystems as well) itself. Interestingly, he looks not only at the example of an ecologist (Aldo Leopold), but also literature--Cold Mountain and the fiction of Wendell Berry to help make his case. I remember being impressed that Freyfogle didn't just diagnose the problem but had suggestions as well. Not policies, per se, but principles to apply to policies.
Since this is such a crappy review I'll just throw some quotes out that I had highlighted.
Something for "Environmentalists" to conside…

In case you missed it. . .

Here's what I read at Trinity House Theatre this last weekend. An untitled essay, originally written for a memoir/travel writing grad class. Comments (critical especially) are welcome.

I killed my cat for $140. That’s what the Michigan Humane Society charges to “put down,” “dispose of,” or “put to sleep,” an animal; choose your least offensive euphemism.
Hermia suckered my wife, by meowing pitifully as only an orphaned kitten can, in our driveway three Mays earlier. I warned Anessa, “Are you really sure you want to take this cat in?” I’ve had cats in my life since the age of four, but I wasn’t sure my wife was ready for a sudden addition to our young marriage.
“Yes. What else are we going to do with him? Her? This little cat?”
We named the cat for the feisty, short lover in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though some people thought the name came from Harry Potter, much to this English major’s chagrin. She was a good mouser, a good moler, also unfortunately a chipmunker and song…

What do six pounds of bees look like?

I'm glad you asked. Lookee here.
Also included in each cage is a can of sugar syrup that the bees feed on during travel. This can is probably 24 oz. or so, but I'm not sure if that's included in the weight. I believe 3 pounds of bees means somewhere between 10 and 15,000 bees.

Here the cage is opened, and the can is removed, just prior to shaking them all out. Yes, I wrote "shaking." You shake the bees out, but their bodies have been sprayed down with my own sugar water concoction to limit the flying around.
The queen cage is outside of the shipping cage sitting on top of the frames. It's the bee-covered shape with the white, plastic strap hanging off of it.

Here's what it looks like after about 1/2 of the bees have been shaken out onto the open super.

After a sweaty and nerve-wracking job (Crap! Are they going to be gentle or pissed when I shake them out?) here's the hive shut up tight with some grass plugging up the entrance to give them some …

Woods Walk

Last Saturday was the second session of this Master Naturalist class that I'm taking (I realize I may sound like a professional student--wasn't there a Charles Baxter story about someone like that--studied Folke Greville, his girlfriend dumped him and he was in a car accident? but I'm not, I DO teach, ya know). Well, I attempt to, anyway. Digress, I do.
I was falling asleep during the lecture, more from physical fatigue that boredom (there was a bit of that--SLIDES! actual slides on a manual projector!) Finally, we were walking through the woods to see what we could see.
Our guide, a Ms. Dockeray, an octogenarian who had the energy of a pentagenarian, would loudly--and I do mean LOUDLY--"Ooooh!" everytime she spotted something she found interesting.
Here are a few specimens that we saw at the Blandford Nature Center outside of Grand Rapids: First up, trout lily, a species I only discovered for myself last year.

I believe this is bloodroot. So named for the blood-…

Childhood's End

Today in class, I overhead some of my charges discussing an upcoming birthday party. "We's goin' to the strip club. And if we can't get in, the strip club comin' to us." I reminded them that that wasn't all that appropriate for school. I was simultaneously thinking, "Oh God, these kids are so. . . confused." I don't know if she meant a male strip club or female strip club given how sexuality is so, shall we say fluid in these times, but either way. . . how is she thinking this is acceptable? If she's not merely bragging for her colleagues, is her mother involved in this? Is this done on the sly or is the mother there "to make sure no one gets hurt"? I can't see her pulling this off, she is far too immature and vacuous to convince anyone of being the age of majority, but still to even contemplate such an action. I truly grieve for the loss of her childhood.

The Real American Idols

This was a posting I created for Facebook, but given the nature of FB (and even this blog--ephemeral) I thought I'd repost it and add some commentary. I don't know that these are in any particular order and I also don't think that I am completely immune from the allure of some of them.

Here's an easy one:

America is obsessed with sex (and yet, I'd wager so is every other nation on earth, they just don't have billions of dollars to spend on advertising, entertainment media, and pornography.) We're fairly gnostic about the whole thing. Some claim our bodies don't matter "It's only my body, it's not like that's my soul or anything!" We don't celebrate sex among the aged (unless you count the erectile dysfunction commercials) or the infirm. No, the only bodies we want to see naked are air-brushed, slicked-up, photo-shopped, and muscular and toned. I think we're scared of any other kind of body.


Again, not something…

Safely in the grasp of Heaven

I can compare partaking in my daughter's baptism today to only three other events in my life: my wedding, her birth, and my son's birth. There is a holy pride (if such a thing exists) bursting forth as she descends into Christ's death and rises up a new creation. The thing is a mystery--how it all works--and yet so tangible. The wet of water, the grasping of hands, the flame of lit candles.

What a glorious day to be baptized! Easter 2009. He lives, not just in my heart, but by the power of the Holy Spirit is immanent in all of His creation. The sun was just a bit brighter and warmer today.

The one disappointment? Entering the East side of the baptismal fount and exiting at the West. Ah, the joys of ahistorical Evangelicalism!

Getting to the Point

My Mass Media students claimed this as a virtue in defense of short magazine articles recently. I've seen this preference show up before too. It seems that if something is more than, say a few paragraphs, or beyond two pages, then it's too long and all sorts of moaning occurs. If something is short, well then, it gets to the point, and if it's long obviously the writer is belaboring the point. While there is truth to this in some situations, I think it speaks more to the students' inability to concentrate on any one subject for a significant length of time than anything else. Essentially, if you can't sum up the argument for the existence of God in a two-premise syllogism, you are taking too long to get to the point. If you can't explain why you should spend the rest of your life with one particular person in a few sentences, you're going on and on and on. If you can't "get to the point" about any important, life-altering issue in 30 se…


Tonight I completed my first Frog and Toad survey for Friends of the Rouge. While I didn't hear any frogs I did hear (and see) plenty. I walked over to my local section of the Upper Rouge, east of Beech-Daly and just south of Six Mile. A storm drain creates a small creek that drains into the river across a grassy floodplain. Air traffic was heavy--five flights all one after the other separated by about 30-45 seconds each with their muffled roars overhead. The robins were active at dusk, flitting and crying here and there. The quiet wash of water could be heard from time to time. The flattened drumming of the intermittent rain could be heard from the trees and the hood on my head. The scratch of a squirrel scrambling up a tree caught me, only to have it play stare down until I moved. I thought I heard one croak, but I believe it was something else, something unknown--though not scary unknown.
Visually I observed the bleached brown grasses, the naked stems, a muddy deer trai…

It's Official. . .

Spring is here. I saw a great blue heron flying over (of all places) Telegraph at Grand River, probably following the Rouge upstream. Don't robins act as the harbingers of spring, you ask. No, those traitorous emigres can usually be seen in late February eating I don't know what. That's just another reason to delist the robin as our state bird. So, says I, let's make the appearance of that feathered pteradactyl the barometer of the vernal appearance. What say ye?

"Your Time Is Not Your Own"

So said Brother Abraham of St. Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan. He was explaining to us why their day was interrupted so often by a call to prayer and worship. The lesson is economy, stewardship, and the idea that nothing, NOTHING, belongs to us, though we like to think most things do.
There is something attractive about the monastic life to me--specifically the ag. projects, though these monks only maintained a garden and harvested the copious raspberries on their property--it's probably just a romanticized ideal. The regementation, the deliberate time for study and prayer. And yet. . . I would tire of their plainsong worship. A proper reaction to God is a solemn hush--sometimes. Sometimes it should involve falling on your face weeping, others hurling every bit of energy from your diaphragm in an exultant shout. My point is, and yes I know I'm commenting on a tradition around 1,600 years old, is that our relationship with Christ is not static and neither…

Diseases come. . .

with invasive species and I've less than a month to write a paper and prepare a 20 minute edutainmentation on everybody's favorite bee parasite--Varroa destructor. Of the Seven Deadly Sins--Sloth is one slow, heavy monkey on my back. Forget the other two afflictions right now. Somebody help me strangle the sloth monkey!

Saving the Planet and Other Complaints

"If you take step X, you too can help save the planet!" "By contributing to cause Y, you'll enable us to save our precious planet!" And so it goes. Really? Will we be able to save the planet? Is the planet truly in danger? Is it going to crack apart and float away? Oh, you mean climate change is endangering the planet. Is it? Will the planet simply vanish with the rising of worldwide temperatures? What if I told you that 99% of all species that ever existed are EXTINCT? This happened before the advent of the automobile and probably most of it before the development of agriculture even. So what is it you are trying to save exactly? Save the hyperbole and do something real, grow your own food, know the plants and animals in your own ecosystem, of which you are a part, and start there. Plant native plants. Hunt and fish within limits. Buy less stuff. These are achievable goals rather than shelling out $5 for a rainforest you will never visit. Dem…

Wisdom in 165 pages

Verily and truly say I.

True sabbath observance is not solely about Sunday. "The goal is rather to arrange our schedules and direct our choices so that they manifest at all times a deep appreciation for the diverse and costly ways of God's grace."

I won't say anymore other than read this humble volume.

It's beginning to look a lot like Lent

Here I am, once again, face to face with my wretchedness. How long will I journey through this season before I get in bed with the old man again? Lord have mercy. Lord, make me merciful.

One thing I suppose I can say is I will attempt to read through Frederica Matthews-Greene's First Fruits of Prayer as a way to develop the prayer muscles.

Ah, Children

Driving on I-96 today, my son remarked about the song "The Day I Tried to Live" by Soundgarden melodiously pumping through the van's speakers: "Dad, is this by Alvin and the Chipmunks?"

Violence and Recoil

Reflecting on Defiance, I'm struck by the tension created in the movie, which wasn't great, but wasn't bad either, between those who relished violence and those who had to be pushed into it. Daniel Craig's character is the first to draw blood, avenging his parent's murder, but he "still sees their faces," meaning the men he shot at point-blank range. He found the taste of blood to be fetid, though this doesn't stop him from killing a challenger to his authority later. The youngest Bielski brothers are the ones who shy from violence even more. Only the second brother, played by Liev Schrieber, truly embraces that inner call to kill; even though he is killing those most acceptable of Hollywood "victims" Nazis the audience is meant to see that perhaps this isn't the way. In fact, there is a scene in the forest camp where the community of hiding Jews pummel a captured German soldier to death. They scream out the names of their murdered…

Tragedian of Middle Earth

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Hurin arrived in stores last spring; never a timely reader I finished the novel last Saturday. It's not as good as The Lord of the Rings--what is?--but, it isn't meant to compete or replace that book. This tale is smaller in scope and as such, can't have the richness of a story broken up into three (really six)books. Nevertheless, this story of fate and striving is a very good read. Tolkien's style is of an older age, yet it reads smoothly, doesn't sound forced or pretentious--he brings you into his world on his terms. Without giving too much away, Hurin, a man among men, challenges Morgoth--Middle Earth's Satan and lord of Sauron BTW--and is captured(This takes place thousands of years before LOTR). Morgoth allows Hurin to live, but he cannot leave Morgoth's lair; he is fated to watch the curse that the enemy lays on his family. So the story switches to Hurin's only son, Turin, who is forced to leave his home…

Aughh! They're coming. . . the plants!

You may wonder why the hell I'm putting up a summary of my class lecture--well, this rewrite helps some of the information stick in my cranial folds.

Tonight's lecture was "Pathways and Dynamics of Plant Invasions." Yes, it was not that exciting. Before the first break I had trouble staying awake--less the prof's fault than perhaps low blood sugar.

Anyway, plant species move to new areas by two primary means: natural pathways (which always existed) i.e. atmospheric, oceanic, and river currents and, of course, us. Natural pathways usually deposited plants along coastlines whereas humans can move them much further in an interior.
Human dispersal has two ways as well--deliberate e.g. commerce, taking the pretty flowers and planting them in our garden 3,500 miles away (now how did that loosestrife end up way over here?), and using species like kudzu to halt soil erosion. That did stop the erosion, but caused other problems. The other method is accidental.
Worldwide …

"Out of a job yet. . ?"

Have you seen this narrowly-interested bumper sticker around in Michigan? I believe it comes from the UAW. The punchline is "Keep Buying Foreign." While I'm glad people realize the interconnectedness of the U.S. Auto industry with the health of Michigan--a fact the last 6-8 months here has only been made stunningly real--it is quite short sighted. I'd like to engage one of the possessors of these stickers and ask the following questions:
1. Where were your TV, stereo, and DVD player made and what is their parent company?
2. Is the food you eat grown in Michigan and do you eat seasonally?
3. Why does the quality of American cars make buying foreign so palatble?
I imagine I'd receive either the bird, a narrowing of eyes, or a blank stare.

The Bias of "The Incredible Journey of Butterflies"

Another top notch show on PBS--this time about Monarch butterflies. Amazing creatures they are. However, in the beginning, the narrator (who can't pronounce "zoologist"--say Zo-ah-low-gist, dammit!--)claims that Monarchs are a miraculous--all because they make a 2,000 mile journey. Yes, yes, wonderful, awesome, etc., ad astra, but no one says any such thing about cockroaches or rats or even opossums. You know why? Fear! Aesthetic predjudice! Yes, I like butterflies better than roaches, but those crawly little bastards are no less special and miraculous. We just hate them, that's why they don't receive good press.

Why Invasions Succeed and Fail

The second class of Invasive Species Ecology was minorly intimidating--the prof broke out some graphs with formulae indicating how the lag effect affects population growth and geographic distribution of invasives. I didn't sweat, but am worried as to how much math will be on the test. Numbers--my Achilles heel. Well, not numbers themselves, but doing things with those numbers sometimes swamps my cerebral canoe.

Anyway we discussed why most contemporary invasions occur--accidental or deliberate importation by us and why most fail.

Most invasive species fail to establish themselves because of the "Rule of tens." For every 1,000 species imported, by natural or human means, only 100 may escape into the wild. Of those 100 species, perhaps 10 may establish a resident population. Of those 10, probably only one will reach sustainable levels that cross over into the pest category. So much works against exotics coming in and being successful in a new, foreign ecosystem. The …

What's that smell?

Nature's PBS program "Is That Skunk?" was pretty cool. Here is a fairly common animal that we know so little about. What did I learn? 1)Skunks are not part of the weasel family, they have their own branch. 2) Tomato juice is not a good remedy for skunk spray--hydrogen peroxide, baking soda(?), and laundry detergent are. 3) Skunk babies are photogenic and are born hairless with black and white skin markings.

My own skunk story--My friend J and I had finished a trip either in Pictured Rocks or the Porcupine Mountains and didn't feel like rushing home so we stayed at the Jellystone KOA (not the best place, BTW) in St. Ignace. After a decent night's sleep I woke to something scratching around the trash in our fire pit. It must have been around 6:30 AM because the gauzy dawn light was brightening. I kicked at the tent door to scare it away to no avail. After a few tries and some hissing on my part I finally sat up, crawled to the door, unzipped the tent, and sa…

A Time Machine. How Depressing.

I hope this will be the last post about Facebook. I can't get over it's people locating abilities. I found people that I haven't talked to for 20 years! There was a time when I could say I haven't even been around that long--in three months I'll be forty. I'm not sure how old my perception is now. For a long time, at least until I was 25, I perceived myself to be 18, and then the perception changed because I felt as if people were actually listening to me. So I think I "felt" 28 for some length of time, but since then. . . .

In geological time, I ain't nothin', but in human marking of time 40 is a collective chunk of something. Seeing how so many people have aged isn't a memento mori, but it sure is a quake to my sensibilities. Where does that time go? No, I don't think it has sped by as too many people fall into the cliched habit of saying and experiencing. Time just moves at the same pace for me--sometimes to fast, sometim…

A New Day

I wonder what Frederick Douglass would think of today? I have an idea, but who can speak for the dead? An interesting inauguration--probably the first I took the time to pay close attention to--solemn, hopeful, different.
President Obama's speech wasn't bad, but, of course, I have some problems with it. I'll tackle the three big ones:

the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. (I'm not trying to take the remarks out of context, I just want to speak to them as they are).
We'll see if he thinks this extends to the unborn, the mentally and physically diminshed, and the terminally ill.

The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.
That's right everyone, time to bow down and worship G.O.D. Can anyone name me one politician today who thinks that constant, i.e. infinite, economic growth is…

It's WORSE than I thought

Oh man, Facebook. It's like the frakkin' pod people. They're everywhere. Does this mean I have to give up my first born child (some days not a bad idea)? Supply a genetic sample (Ohhhh, honey. . . !). I shall swear in French now--Merde!

Inauguration Fatigue

According to a Google search, only one other listing shows up for this topic. Am I the only one tired of hearing how G.W. Bush is the WORST PRESIDENT EVER and Barack Obama will be one of the GREATEST PRESIDENTS EVER? Please don't say I'm a sore loser--I wrote in Wendell Berry in symbolic protest to the binary choices offered me. I tired soon after the beginning of the longest presidential campaign ever and I'm not interested in all the brouhaha surrounding the "anointed one." I don't want Obama to fail because that only makes our mess worse, but given his choice for Ag. Secretary and his commitment to FOCA, I can't help but hold back a "hurrah" for this--yes--historic inauguration.
Perhaps I'm just feeling burned after thinking G.W. Bush would be a good choice, but besides a few exceptions, I really don't like his policies. Why would a Democrat do any better? I expect too much and thus need to work on what can I do to make th…

It's a Miraculous Life

So says Wendell Berry as he gives the metaphorical finger to E.O. Wilson and all philosophical materialists.

In the pictured book, Berry takes Wilson and his reductionistic tendencies to the whipping post: ". . .[H]e cannot suspect, the possibility that relgious faith may be a way of knowing things that cannot otherwise be known." J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis said the same thing of myth. Wilson, in his book, Consilience, wants to make every human endeavor subservient to science and conform to the scientific method as a way of understanding all things.

A minor problem, perhaps, is the tendency of materialism to objectify the world, dividing it from the "objective observer" who studies it. The world thus becomes "the environment," a word which Mr. Wilson uses repeatedly when speaking of conservation, and which means "surroundings," a place that one is in but not of. The question raised by this objectifying procedure and its vocabulary is whet…


I can't think of anything more wonderful in the winter than virginal snow. Especially at night when your ears absorb the swoosh as your steps kick the powder out and the rubbery scrunch as the sole of your boot packs it underneath.

Too many people complain about snow, but there's something magical about those white flakes dripping from the heavens.

Farewell Christmas

Today, by some reckoning (ours included), is the 12th day of Christmas. The chillen opened their last few gifts, the tree will become a bird shelter on Saturday. Life resumes a less sparkling pace. Epiphany is today too. I find the build up to Christmas (Advent) usually more enjoyable than the great feast itself (like Holy week is more "exciting" than Easter Monday and so on). I don't know if that's a personal failing or just a human thing. As I continue to grow up, I do take comfort and pleasure in the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, and I must admit that 12 days of Christmas completely beats the orgasm of one day, one hour of Christmas that I grew up with. Still. . . the anticpation somehow is sweeter than the honey itself.
Now, how to celebrate Epiphany? Perhaps flashing?

Greed, thy name is Martin.

That title is perhaps overstating things a bit--perhaps ignorance should be substituted for greed. In reviewing the family finances, we found, unfortunately, that we only give about 3.5 percent of our income to charity. Rounding down, (and guessing at the same time)unscientifically to after tax dollars the percentage only increases to 3.9%. So, we resolved to finagle numbers to move that up to 5% this year, if not more. That is still less than a "tithe" and frankly disappointing, but it is best not to make gigantic moves. The idea is to get to the magic 10 (or even 9) percent within the next few years.
Providentially (perhaps) today, I picked up the November/December issue of Books and Culture and read "A Lot of Lattes" by Ron Sider, his review of Passing the Plate, a sociological study of why American Christians aren't all that generous. He says there would be an extra $46 billion a year available for "kingdom work" if "committed Chris…